Roasted red pepper & tomato sauce

Stir-in pasta sauces are both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, they cut down cooking time by at least 70% and put a dinner on the table, stat. On the other hand, they discourage folk from making their own more delicious, fresher, and nutritious sauces. Aside from the standard chopped tomatoes, onion, garlic, and herb affair, a beautiful pasta sauce can be made from blitzing roasted vegetables together. This recipe is one I have been playing around with: it’s more time-consuming than the other options, but the final product is well worth it.

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To serve two, you’ll need:

  • two red peppers
  • twenty plum tomatoes
  • one red onion
  • two cloves of garlic
  • chill flakes
  • balsamic vinegar
  • tomato puree
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • wholewheat spaghetti.

Begin by preheating the oven to gas mark 6, and slicing the red peppers. Drizzle in oil, arrange with plenty of space on baking trays, and intersperse with the tomatoes. Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until tender – you may need to switch your trays round to ensure even cooking.

Meanwhile, chop the onion and and cook gently for ten minutes, sprinkling with salt and a pinch of sugar. Add sliced garlic and cook for another three minutes, before adding a tablespoon of tomato puree, mixing well, and leaving for another minute. Pour in a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and simmer very gently for one minute.

Set up your food processor, and tip in the roasted vegetables, onions, and garlic, with a sprinkling of chilli flakes and seasoning. Blitz until smooth. Check seasoning, adding more sugar or balsamic if you want it sweeter.

Set the spaghetti on to cook, with spinach in a steamer for some complementary greens. Mix the pasta and sauce and warm in the pan. Serve with the spinach, and enjoy!

Chickpea and spinach curry

Although it’s June, British weather keeps us forever in thrall of its impetuous decision-making and rash promises. On days like today, when it’s rained consistently for hours on end, a hot bowl of curry provides a dose of relief from the glum skies and damp pavements. Here, chickpeas pack a double-dose of heartiness to a big pile of happy-inducing rice, and the warm flavours almost make the rain disappear. This recipe is relatively simple to make, and is fantastic for batch cooking for busy weeknight dinners.

To serve two, you’ll need:

  • One red onion
  • Three cloves of garlic
  • One red chilli
  • Thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • 3/4 tsp each ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp fenugreek
  • One tin / carton of chickpeas (soaked and cooked from scratch, or use an organic variety if you’re able to, for plumper and softer pulses)
  • One tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 200ml coconut milk
  • 150g fresh spinach, or around eight frozen lumps
  • A handful of coriander

 

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Begin by finely chopping the onion and leaving to cook gently for ten minutes on a low heat. Finely chop garlic, ginger, and chilli before adding to the pan and frying for one minute. Add the spices and fry briefly before tipping in the tomatoes. Stir everything well and simmer for fifteen minutes.

Add the coconut milk (please choose full-fat – it tastes so much better) and the rinsed chickpeas. Season, and leave to simmer for another ten to fifteen minutes.

Put on your choice of rice to cook (I will always choose the texture and nutritious benefit of brown), and if using frozen spinach, pop this into a steamer. After ten minutes or so, press down on the cooked spinach to squeeze out excess liquid. Tip the spinach into the sauce, and use your spatula or spoon and a fork to separate the clumps of spinach out.

Serve the curry over rice, garnishing with a handful of coriander. Enjoy!

Aubergine & spinach curry with turmeric roasted potatoes 

When it comes to curry, aubergine is one of my favourite ingredients. It’s got a fantastic ability to soak up flavour, and when cooked through, it’s lovely and tender. From time to time, I used to make an aubergine curry I’d seen made by an Indian lady on YouTube, which satisfied my desire for authenticity; now I just cobble together my own, requiring less effort. This recipe is easily thrown together on a weekday evening, and tastes even better on re-heating. It can be served as I ate it, with potatoes, or with rice.

 

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To serve two, you’ll need:

  • One aubergine
  • 100g spinach
  • One red onion
  • Two cloves of garlic
  • Thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • One green chilli (or less, if you’re not keen on too much spice)
  • Half a tsp each ground cumin and coriander
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • A few medium-sized white potatoes per person
  • Tin of chopped tomatoes

Begin by preheating the oven to gas mark 7. Wash and chop the potatoes into medium sized chunks. Drizzle with olive oil, dust with half a tsp of turmeric and cayenne pepper, season, and mix well to incorporate. Tip onto a baking tray, and roast for 45-60 minutes, turning halfway; you want a nice golden crisp by the end of the cooking time.

Roughly chop the red onion, and cook gently for ten minutes over a low heat. Finely chop the garlic, chilli, and ginger, then add to the pan. Adding a little more oil to the pan if needed, fry for a minute before adding the ground cumin, coriander, and turmeric, before frying for another minute.

Add the aubergine, chopped into smallish chunks, and mix well to coat in the spice mixture. Pour in the chopped tomatoes and a little water before leaving to simmer for around 35 minutes, or until tender. Add more water if needed.

Meanwhile, check on the potatoes, and turn them over. When both the aubergines and the potatoes are cooked through, stir through the spinach in handfuls. Season with salt and pepper if needed.

Serve the curry over the potatoes, and enjoy!

Easy roasted veg pasta

After a bit of a break from blogging, with uni deadlines and stress finally at a period of abatement (at least, there’s three weeks until the next deadline), I’ve finally got time for a few posts. Having spent mornings and afternoons working part-time, studying, and writing essays for the past couple of months, it’s been difficult to find time and motivation for cooking creatively. Several go-to recipes from Aine Carlin’s Keep it Vegan (that black bean chilli) have kept me going, and I’ve often winged it with improvised curries, stir fries, and pasta sauces, some of which may one day make it to this blog. I’m currently a big fan of Bosh, who devise glorious recipes – from a sweet chilli tofu dish to chocolate fudge cake – filmed from a vantage point which allows the viewer to envisage themselves in cooking mode.

One of my favourite dinners keeps it simple with two of my favourite things: roasted veg and garlic. This recipe is super easy and very satisfying.

For 2 – 3 portions, you’ll need:

  • two handfuls of cherry or plum tomatoes (around 150g)
  • two medium courgettes
  • one medium aubergine
  • two peppers – red or yellow
  • five or six cloves of garlic
  • half a bunch fresh basil (optional, but recommended!)
  • chilli flakes
  • dried rosemary
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • 80 – 100g wholewheat pasta, per person

 

Begin by preheating the oven to gas mark 6. Halve the aubergine lengthwise, then each half in two, before cutting into chunks. Place in a large bowl. Halve and deseed the peppers, roughly slice, and add to the bowl. Drizzle the aubergines and peppers with olive oil, then season with salt, pepper, a tsp dried rosemary, and a pinch or two of chilli flakes. Mix well with your hands to coat all the vegetables, before tipping into a large baking tray. Slide into the oven.

Slice the courgettes and place in the bowl with the tomatoes. Drizzle with oil and season as before, tip onto another tray, and place in the oven underneath the other. Roast for 45 minutes – 1 hour, switching the trays halfway through and giving the veg a stir. When you switch, throw in the garlic cloves (whole!) onto the top tray. These will finish tender and fragrant.

With ten minutes to go, boil and drain your pasta. Rip the basil leaves into quarters, and stir equally through the veg. Divide between plates or place leftovers into Tupperware for a delicious lunch or dinner tomorrow, hot or cold. Serve over the pasta with nutritional yeast, for a nutty finish. Simple and very tasty!

(Perhaps avoid the garlic if you’ve got a date that evening. I’ve been told the day after a garlic-y dinner that I reek of the stuff. Charming.)

 

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Pan-fried red pepper & sprouts

The Brussels sprout, the divisive Christmas vegetable. I’ve always loved them, and I’ve never understood why some people hate them with an absolute passion. As a child, I ate Brussels every year with pancetta and chestnuts; this year, they were boiled and slathered in gravy – slightly less impressive, but tasty nonetheless. With a spare packet slowly withering in the pantry, I wanted to try something a little different, to prove that the traditional sprout isn’t only the derided counterpart to the Christmas roast potatoes: here I’ve pan-fried them with spices and red pepper.

 

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To serve two, you’ll need:

  • a small pack of Brussels sprouts
  • one red pepper
  • one clove of garlic
  • a thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • one small red chilli
  • dark soy sauce
  • sunflower oil, for frying

Begin by chopping off the small stalks and peeling away the outer leaves of each sprout. Finely chop the garlic and chilli, and grate the ginger. (I’ve just discovered how much better grated ginger is for frying. I can tell from the aroma released as it hits the hot oil; and there are no chunky bits of ginger which tend to overpower the other flavours.)

Slice the red pepper in thin strips, then into halves. Heat a good glug of oil in a large frying pan, and add the spices. Fry for no more than a minute, stirring constantly, before adding the sprouts. Mix to combine with the spices, fry for a few minutes, then add the pepper, with more oil if needed.

Fry for around fifteen minutes, moving everything around regularly; but leave the veg to stick to the pan to acquire a bit of a chargrilled tan. In the meantime, set some rice to boil – I will almost always opt for brown, as it’s the wholegrain – the white has been stripped of the bran and the germ, which contain all the fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Here’s a link to a useful article on the advantages (and disadvantages) of brown over white.

Once the sprouts are cooked – soft, but still with bite – add a tablespoon or so of dark soy sauce. I added this for lack of my usual tamari, but in all honesty, I preferred the richness of the dark here: helping everything to caramelise, it complimented the sweetness of the red pepper. Cook for another minute on a low heat before serving over the rice. I also added chickpeas to the pan to cook through, for extra protein. (As I’m at home, I’m enjoying the luxury of organic beans and pulses, and boy are they superior; softer, bigger, and chemical-free. It’ll be hard to shift back to bog-standard tins.) This is a good way to use up a surplus of sprouts, and would go just as well with wholewheat noodles.

Lentil bolognese

If there any purists of Italian cuisine reading this, I wholeheartedly apologise for what I have done to one of your classics. I’ve ripped the meat out, shunned the egg pasta, and given Parmesan the cold shoulder. I’m not even sure if I can call this a bolognese. Nevertheless, since it retains something of a meaty texture and still oozes a luxuriant, tomatoey sauce, this recipe can keep the bolognese as its birthright.

Also, in my defence – this is delicious. It’s hearty, healthy, and tasty, everything a bolognese should be. Yes, I’ve added peppers, to add more fuel to the fire; but in my opinion, they gave the sauce another layer of sweetness. If you’re looking for a healthier alternative to a meat-based bolognese, or, if you’re veggie, or a vegan like me, this is the way to go.

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To serve two generously, you’ll need:

  • 150g dry green lentils
  • two small peppers, red and orange
  • one medium carrot
  • two large sticks of celery
  • one medium brown onion
  • two cloves of garlic
  • one tin of good quality chopped tomatoes
  • tomato puree
  • chilli flakes
  • balsamic vinegar
  • dry spaghetti

Begin by putting the lentils on to boil (not too vigorously) for forty minutes, or until tender. Drain and rinse well in a sieve.

Roughly chop the onion, carrot, and celery. Heat a glug of olive or rapeseed (canola) oil in a large saucepan or crockpot (frying pan is too small!). Cook gently for ten minutes, until softened.

Add finely chopped garlic, and cook, stirring, until aromatic. Tip in the finely sliced peppers, and fry for a few minutes – you’ll probably need to add more oil. Add a good squirt of tomato puree and stir until incorporated. Cook for another minute.

Pour in the chopped tomatoes, adding a little water to clean the tin out. Give it all a good mix, seasoning well with salt, pepper, and chilli flakes, and leave to simmer for half an hour. Then, add the cooked lentils, and 3/4 tbsp balsamic vinegar – this will give it a lovely sweetness – and simmer for another ten minutes, while your spaghetti is cooking.

Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the water. If you’re serving two, add the pasta to the pan and incorporate loosely with tongs, adding a splash of the water if it needs loosening up. If you’re serving your own lonely self, transfer half the bolognese to a plastic container to cool down before putting in the fridge or freezing, and combine spaghetti with the other half.

Serve in bowls, with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast. Delicious!

 

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Christmas dinner: vegan-style

We are all fond of celebrating special occasions through food: from birthdays, visits, achievements, to holidays. Christmas evidently falls in the latter category, with the hotly-anticipated dinner celebrated as the day’s crowning glory. In general, the whole affair is a massive slog: preparing days in advance, cooking for most of the morning, facing the Everest of washing up in the aftermath. But it is tradition, nonetheless, and Christmas Day wouldn’t be the same without it.

Tradition – a handy notion any omnivore could use to justify meat-eating at Christmas, not just in general. Turkey, stuffing, pigs-in-blankets – all essential components of the meal. Gravy must contain animal substances, and potatoes gain ultimate crispness from duck fat. Take away the animal products, and it’s not Christmas dinner. But from anyone’s perspective, it shouldn’t be what you sit down to eat that matters, but the act of sitting down to eat itself. The very essence of Christmas (in a secular view) is goodwill and enjoyment: and the traditional Christmas dinner, in its bare basics, occludes all vestiges of those. Call me a kill-joy, but there’s a bit too much kill thrown into the mix.

 

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Despite this, the veganised Christmas dinner I shared with my housemates was modelled on the one we’ve all eaten throughout our lives: the meaty main, potatoes, veg, gravy. So to an extent, tradition still reigns supreme; but any tradition can be open to interpretation. My vegetarian housemate and I spent an afternoon making a nut roast from Bosh, and she took immense pride in preparing Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s vegan gravy. We parboiled our potatoes before roasting them in plenty of olive oil (in absence of vegetable), salt, pepper, and rosemary; there were parsnips and vegan stuffing balls; carrots, broccoli, peas. Movement was difficult after. And although I’m not a hugely sentimental person, the food took backseat to the actual occasion, even to the 99p bottle of Shloer.

My point is that Christmas dinner is so much more than the food, although a McDonald’s on the day is pretty blasphemous – but if that’s what you want, so be it. Doing it as a vegan doesn’t make it in any way sub-standard; in all honesty, I never particularly liked turkey anyway, and usually slathered it in sauce to detract from its dry texture. The nut roast, on the other hand, was glorious, and not one bird had their life cut short for it. And when you can make enough stuffing for four people from a 20p pack, you know the veggie option’s at least got cost-effectiveness going for it.

What do I really want? For more people to try a vegan Christmas. Spread that festive goodwill beyond men and women. You wouldn’t stuff your dog’s interior with herbs and serve that as your centrepiece, so there is no reason why you should a bird: a turkey wants life just as much as we do. Merry Christmas!

 

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